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How MMC Became Home: Faculty, Staff Reflect on Milestone Anniversaries for Charter Day

On March 19, we celebrated one of our community’s most important recognition days: Charter Day, which commemorates when MMC received its charter as an independent college. Charter Day events hold special meaning, not only as a reminder of MMC’s evolution but as a time to celebrate the milestone anniversaries of our extraordinary faculty and staff. This year, we honored 23 faculty and staff members representing nearly 500 years of service to the College. We spoke with a few of them about their time here and why they made MMC their home.

Katie LeBesco, Ph.D.
Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Professor of Communication and Media Arts
25 years

What brought you to MMC?
I like to say I was a child bride of MMC. I came here straight out of a Ph.D. program at age 28, exhilarated at the prospect of New York adventures, eager to do research in a flexible environment that supported interdisciplinarity and to teach students known for their moxie. I was enchanted by the College’s scrappiness and saw that there was room to grow.

What would present-day you tell that younger version of yourself as she started her first day at the College?
There will be days that puncture you, but there will be sublime ones, too. Stay the course, and the life you build here, the friends you make, and the work that you do will nourish and sustain you.

What have you enjoyed most about being part of this community?
I have laughed thousands of times with hundreds of people here. On the whole, we’re a pretty good-natured cross-section of humanity. Opportunities for mirth are always lurking; you just need to know where to look.

What lessons have you learned from students or colleagues?
I have encountered people dealing gracefully with great precarity—health crises, the loss of loved ones, the aftermath of abuse, financial instability, and other traumas—in their lives, even in this place of privilege. I’ve been inspired by their determination and perseverance. I learned not to take what I have for granted and to understand that while I may not always be able to control my circumstances, I can control how I respond to them.

Do any stand-out moments come to mind when you look back on your life at MMC?
The day I interviewed for my first gig here as an assistant professor, in spring 1998, I wore a jaunty one-piece pantsuit that zipped up the back. Not my usual style, but I thought it would make a good impression. Somehow, the zipper got stuck and wouldn’t budge, so I endured several hours of interviewing and then a lengthy teaching demo with an acutely overfull bladder. The second my interview day was done, I bolted into the tiny women’s bathroom off the Black-and-White, clawing at my pantsuit like a wild animal, trying to rip it off so I could finally get some relief, to no avail. Two dance students came in, and their expressions moved from puzzlement to deep empathy in the space of seconds. They worked together and quickly freed me from my ensemble, and I ran top-down into the stall, deliverance at hand, while the dancers clapped and cheered. What an auspicious beginning. People at MMC have had my back since the first day!

Tahneer Oksman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Writing, Literature, and Language and Communication and Media Arts
10 years

What brought you to MMC?
I came to MMC partly because it was an opportunity to jump into directing an academic writing program—so it afforded me a lot of responsibility right out of graduate school and the chance to hit the ground running and help shape a program. I was immediately drawn in by the faculty on the search committee—Magda Maczynska was the chair, and we hit it off right away. I also loved the creative atmosphere of the College.

What would present-day you tell the younger version of yourself on her first day at the College?
That maintaining a good work-life balance helps to prevent burnout. It’s something I talk to my students about now when I prepare them for going into the workplace.

What have you enjoyed most about being part of this community?
I have made wonderful friends—we have such a great staff and faculty at the school. It can be difficult to maintain steady relationships in NYC because everyone is always so busy, but I know when I see certain people we will pick up just where we left off. It’s also hard to beat teaching in Manhattan. There is really nowhere like it.

What lessons have you learned from your students or colleagues?
My students have taught me how important it is to keep investigating what I think of as my best practices and to stay open to change. They have taught me the importance of enthusiasm—theirs is often contagious—and of challenging my assumptions.

Do any stand-out moments come to mind when you look back on your life at MMC?
Early in my time here, Sue Behrens and I helped co-organize a conference on the transition for student writers between high school and college. That was fantastic. I also loved co-organizing a mini-conference with Hallie Cohen and Cheryl Paradis on trauma and the arts. But some of my best times have been small moments: prepping for workshops or discussing writing pedagogy with Diana Epelbaum and Magda; talking comics in the hallway with Kent Worcester or poetry with Jerry Williams; discussing trauma theory with Mike Colvin, and eventually co-teaching a class on visual memoir; getting work-life balance advice from Laura Tropp over lunches; kvetching to Jen Brown, Julie Huntington, and others (I do the majority of the kvetching). I am lucky to have met so many wonderful colleagues, all doing such interesting work.

Michael Salmon, M.Sc.
Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs/Dean of Academic Excellence
25 years

What brought you to MMC?
I initially came to MMC in 1993, on the recommendation of a colleague, to teach a course in Comparative Economic Systems. I remained an adjunct instructor until 1998, when I was offered a full-time position as an academic advisor in the Office of Student Success Advising.

What would present-day you tell the younger version of yourself on his first day at the College?
I would tell my younger self to get to know as many colleagues as soon as he can and try to understand what they do. Seeing the bigger picture makes your role more meaningful.

What have you enjoyed most about being part of this community?
For me, MMC means family and community! I have always felt that I was a part of an extended family within a small community of students, faculty, and staff. I’m especially grateful to have worked closely with our HEOP community of students, many of whom have overcome much to become MMC graduates and have gone on to show the world the transformative power of opportunity.

What lessons have you learned from your students or colleagues?
The two that stand out most are: (1) Always be open to new ideas and different ways of doing things. No one person has a monopoly on ideas or know-how—regardless of their position or prior experiences. And (2) treat every person you meet with the utmost respect. No one will value what you say unless they value and respect who you are.

Do any stand-out moments come to mind when you look back on your life at MMC?
In 2013, I had the honor of being one of 10 finalists from around the country to receive the First Year Student Advocate Award from the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina. This award meant a lot to me because it was for the work I had done over the past decade here at MMC in promoting first-year student mentoring and advising, including the creation of our very first Peer Leader Program in 2002. It’s an honor and privilege to continue serving our students.

Debbie Giordano, Psy.D
Director of the Counseling and Wellness Center
15 years

What brought you to MMC?
I came to MMC straight out of graduate school, and my first role as a health and wellness coordinator helped me complete my postdoctoral hours for licensure as a psychologist. I was thrilled about the prospect of working within a college counseling center, as I had previously trained in this area and found working with college students immensely rewarding.

What have you enjoyed most about being part of this community?
I’ve stayed at MMC for this long because it’s such a wonderful and vibrant community. I love that I have made lasting connections with folks in CWC and Student Life, as well as across departments and throughout the College. I truly value our small, tight-knit community, and I love working with our students!

What has your time at MMC taught you?
I have learned so much during my time at MMC. I’ve grown as a psychologist as well as a clinical supervisor for our staff who are training to be therapists. I’ve also gotten a tremendous education in the inner workings of college mental health and higher education as a whole.

Do any stand-out moments come to mind when you look back on your life at MMC?
One point in time that will always stick out for me is March 2020—the very beginning of COVID, when the College went fully remote. It was a difficult time, to be sure, but I was so impressed with how our staff came together to support one another and solve challenging problems that we’d never had to contemplate before. I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish, especially keeping CWC accessible to students during a tremendously stressful and uncertain time.

Published: March 15, 2024